Beyond the cookies, the caroling, the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh, the nicest thing about Christmas is the booty. (Not that kind. The other kind.) I’m 31 but love receiving presents as much as I did in 1989. It’s just the gifts themselves are a little different now. Instead of a Jon Bon Jovi poster, I get kitchen shears. Instead of a Richie Sambora poster, I get a cleaver. Instead of a Tico Torres poster, I get … man, I really liked Bon Jovi.
Anyway, this year, hidden deep under the Christmas tree (next to socks from CostCo., if you must know) was Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Light Recipe book. Upon unwrapping it, I thumbed through immediately, and found about 47,654 dishes to try before 2009 kicks in. The first to make it to my actual mouth was Barley Risotto, which was an unqualified success.
Fancy enough for company, but simple enough for a Sunday meal, the recipe substitutes pearl barley for the standard Arborio rice, and adds finely diced carrots for a touch of sweetness. The result is higher in fiber (9 grams per serving) and lower in calories (290 per serving) than rice-based risotto, with a lighter, nuttier flavor and a pleasant, substantive chew. Cook’s Illustrated suggests serving it with a cut of lean meat, but it’d do fine on its own, no problem.
One thing: the book’s cooking times were slightly off. Each step took me 3 to 10 minutes longer than what CI asked for, and that differentiation is reflected below.
In the meantime, I hope everyone’s holiday was lovely and bright, and you received everything you have asked for. Either that, or a Bon Jovi poster.
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups pearl barley, rinsed
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Ground black pepper
Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan; reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, combine the onion, carrot, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, add the barley, and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and aromatic, about 4 minutes. Stir in the wine and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the wine has been completely absorbed by the barley, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the thyme and 3 cups of the warm broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 20 to 22 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups of the warm broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 15 to 20 minutes longer.
Continue to cook the risotto, stirring frequently and adding 1/2 cup of the remaining broth at a time as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 5 to 6 minutes), until the grains of barley are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, about 25 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan and butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately in warmed shallow bowls, with wedges of lemon and/or fresh parsley.